“I realized something… Most of the time when I’m talking to someone, I’ve already got a list of answers in my brain, and I’m trying to categorize their answers into what I expect.”
This summer, I was put in charge of a big project for my company. I’ve had some experience with human-centered design, but I knew I wanted to get everyone on the same page and have some design colleagues to support me through the process.
So we brought in Anna and Parker to facilitate a design thinking workshop.
The first day, we warmed up our empathy muscles and began interviewing people who would potentially use our designs. And that’s when my colleague made the statement above. It was a passing comment during a break after the interviews, but it stuck with me.
+It stuck because I’ve been working in this field for almost 9 years. I assumed I knew a lot.
+It stuck because I realized how I try to assess and categorize others so I don’t have to think so much.
+It stuck because I noticed how I want to finish another person’s sentences. To complete their story for them.
+It stuck because I learned new ways to listen and follow emotion through to get to the heart of people’s joys and struggles.
It stuck because the insights we developed were much richer than any of us on the team anticipated.
And here comes the challenge. We engaged in empathy work and gained new insights. But the ideas we brainstormed and prototyped pushed the boundaries of what we could realistically do. What would be viable for our current business models.
The big project I was tasked with has come with more than a few challenges. We’re still taking small, iterative steps forward after the Stoke.d workshop.
But my bigger takeaway is that empathy is powerful. And a little bit dangerous.
Empathy isn’t just a fun little tool for design thinkers to get some fresh inspiration. As a designer, if I truly listen to and value another person’s experiences, these interactions will change how I understand the business problem. They will inspire new ideas that address what people really want and need. Empathy will force me to make hard decisions about how to move forward with a “design solution.” I will have to negotiate between design ideas and business goals.
Human-centered design is powerful. I believe it is incredibly important for innovation. But be warned. Empathy will change you and challenge your expectations.
-From our friend Bethany Stolle at Sparkhouse. Bethany can be found @bethanystolle